While news of a baby on the way and the joys of a new addition to your family, especially a first child, is a positive life milestone for many, it can also be the cause of anxiety and depression.
Up to 1 in 10 women and 1 in 20 men suffer from depression or anxiety during pregnancy. It’s very common to feel a little bit anxious and experience mood swings during this time, but if a low mood or anxiety is affecting your normal life, it is important to seek help.
What is Antenatal Anxiety and Depression?
Anxiety or depression that starts during pregnancy is known as antenatal depression or anxiety.
It’s common to experience dips in mood during pregnancy due to hormone fluctuations, concerns about development, and worries for the future. However, if you’re constantly feeling low and depressed, experiencing intrusive thoughts, or having trouble doing your everyday activities due to your feelings, this may indicate more serious perinatal anxiety or depression that needs treatment.
What is Postnatal Anxiety and Depression?
Postnatal refers to the period after birth – not just the first few days or weeks but up to a year after you give birth.
Many women experience ‘the baby blues‘ or a very low mood a few days after giving birth as their hormone levels restabilise. While this may result in lots of tears, anxiety, and a general feeling of being overwhelmed, it usually resolves quickly as long as you’re receiving sufficient care and support.
However, if these feelings don’t go away, or you feel persistently numb, miserable, or unable to cope for an extended period after having a baby, this could be a sign of postnatal depression.
Postnatal depression doesn’t always start immediately after birth. Sometimes it can start when your baby is several months old.
Perinatal refers to the period during pregnancy and up to a year after birth, covering both the antenatal and postnatal period.
Signs and Symptoms of Perinatal Anxiety and Depression
Different people experience anxiety and depression in different ways. Many women think that postnatal depression only happens to women who have trouble bonding with their babies, but this is simply not the case. Some of the warning signs include:
- Persistent worries and anxiety, often surrounding the health or wellbeing of the baby
- Constantly feeling on edge or nervous
- Feeling tearful or sad and crying often for no obvious reason
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Lack of interest in things you used to enjoy
- Finding it hard to sleep at night or waking frequently
- Irritability and frequently having a short temper
- Feeling numb or difficulty bonding with the baby
- Reluctance to leave the house
- Neglecting personal care
- Difficulty in focusing and concentrating on tasks
- Losing interest in sex and personal relationships
- Lack of appetite or overeating
- Panic attacks
- Obsessive or compulsive behaviours, such as excessive hand washing or needing to check several times that you’ve locked the door or turned the oven off
- Feeling generally overwhelmed and unable to cope
- Feeling angry, guilty, or that you’ve made a mistake
- Intrusive thoughts, or worrying that you might hurt the baby
- Suicidal or self-harming thoughts.
Of course, many of these symptoms are typical of any new sleep-deprived parent and aren’t always a clear sign of true anxiety or depression, but if you are experiencing several of these symptoms for longer than a few days, it’s important that you seek advice from a medical professional.
Risk Factors for Perinatal Anxiety and Depression
Nobody is immune from perinatal anxiety and there’s no way to predict if you will suffer from it. However, some factors may increase your risk of developing clinical anxiety or depression during pregnancy or after birth. These include:
- Previous history of depression or anxiety
- Family history of mental illness
- Previous loss of a baby through miscarriage, termination or stillbirth
- Previous fertility problems
- Difficult pregnancy or birth
- Physical health problems in the mother or baby
- Premature baby
- Feeding challenges
- A baby who has trouble settling, wakes frequently, or cries excessively
- Stress due to work, finances, or relationship
- Lack of family and social support
- History of childhood neglect or trauma.
Are Fathers Affected Too?
Antenatal and postnatal depression are usually thought of as a women’s issue, and it’s true that pregnancy hormones have a big part to play in affecting mood.
However men can also be affected by the stresses and worries of pregnancy, childbirth, and looking after a baby and up to 10% of new dads struggle with depression or anxiety after their baby is born.
Men often feel increased pressure to provide for their families when a new baby is on the way, and may well experience more financial stress when two incomes drop down to one. Many dads often find it difficult to navigate the change in their relationship with their partner, as new mothers are usually very focused on their baby and may show little interest in sex or intimacy.
Symptoms of depression and anxiety in new dads are similar to those for mums, but whereas women are more likely to seem constantly down, sad, and tearful, men may feel frustrated and have outbursts of anger.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer couples face additional pressures when it comes to starting a family.
Not only must they adjust to the change in life that every new parent has to learn to deal with, but they may also be challenged with lack of support and understanding from family and friends and discrimination and isolation within the local community.
LGBTIQ parents have additional risk factors because of these challenges and may be more likely to develop perinatal depression or anxiety.
Where to Get Help?
If you think that you may be suffering from anxiety or depression during pregnancy or after the birth of your baby, there is support and help available to you.
Confiding in your partner or a trusted friend is a good place to start, and you can also seek the advice of your GP who is trained in treating these issues. There is no need to feel embarrassed or ashamed if you’re experiencing negative feelings, and it doesn’t make you any less of a parent.
If you’re worried about your partner, provide as much help and support as you can and encourage them to contact a healthcare professional.
Counselling can also be very helpful both for individuals and couples to help process their feelings and manage negative thoughts. Psychological Health Care clinic in Dianella offers counselling services for pregnancy and postpartum depression and anxiety to provide support during this difficult period and help you towards a happy and fulfilling parenthood journey.